Reconnecting with Africa at Mavela Game Lodge

Posted by Stuart Parker on 3 March 2014

A short safari break at Mavela Game Lodge in KwaZulu-Natal is the perfect place for some quality time to reconnect with Africa. Especially, writes Stuart Parker, if it’s been a while since you’ve been in the bush.


Zululand Rhino Reserve, landscape, bush

Sunset over the Zululand Rhino Reserve

Its been just over four years since my wife’s family immigrated to Australia. So when they decided to visit South Africa last Dec / Jan holidays for an extended three-week holiday, my father-in-law asked me to book a few nights at a safari lodge where the family could spend quality time reconnecting with Africa.

We live in KwaZulu-Natal so I booked a three night stay at Mavela Game Lodge in the Zululand Rhino Reserve. Mavela Game Lodge is a small tented lodge with only five guest tents, making it the ideal place for that back-to-Africa experience the family was looking for.


Zululand Rhino Reserve

For those who don’t know, the Zululand Rhino Reserve is a 23 000 ha Big Five game reserve in the north of KwaZulu-Natal (not far from Mkuze). The reserve was formed in 2004 when several land owners dropped their internal fences and re-introduced wildlife and proclaimed it as a game reserve. The Zululand Rhino Reserve is one of the KZN reserves actively involved in the Black Rhino range expansion project. This project was the catalyst for the creation of the reserve but they have since reintroduced several different species into the reserve and continue to do so.


Mavela Game Lodge

From the time we arrived the team at Mavela were exceptional. Our guide Andre quickly sized us up and conducted his daily game drives according to our group dynamics.  

Ashley, my 17 year old brother-in-law, left South Africa when he was around 12 years old so doesn’t have much recollection of his family holidays to SA’s wildlife destinations. This trip was therefore the ideal opportunity for him to experience a genuine safari in his home country and Andre was instrumental in ensuring he got the most out of the trip. It’s not easy to keep teenagers engaged on long game drives but he did an excellent job in connecting with Ashley throughout our stay.

My father-in-law, on the other hand, was content to just be back in the bush. He wasn’t interested in chasing after every wildlife sighting reported on the reserve. Instead he was happy to slowly explore the park and enjoy whatever we bumped into. As a result we never rushed our drives. We hardly saw another vehicle for the three days we were there and also didn’t have an annoying vehicle radio regularly interrupting the drive. Andre of course kept an ear on the radio but we didn’t respond to sightings that would result in a mad rush across the reserve.

While we weren’t chasing wildlife we still enjoyed some incredible sightings in the three days we were there. Some of the highlights included elephant, rhino, buffalo and healthy general game populations. But the best sighting for me was without doubt the black rhino and her calf which we bumped into late one morning on the way back to the lodge. The rhino displayed typical black rhino behavior but hung around long enough to get the black rhino photos I’ve been after for years.

safari, bush breaks, mavela game lodge, rhino, black rhino

A memorable Black Rhino sighting at Mavela Game Lodge

My wife and I are amateur birders and were blown away by Andre’s exceptional knowledge and the wide variety of species in the reserve. Mavela is promoted as a specialist birding lodge and Andre is their dedicated bird guide. Birding is his passion and it comes through on his daily game drives. At each bird sighting Andre rattled off the birds name, told us something interesting about its behavior and would often mimic its call so we could recognize it later.

Back at the lodge, we took the time to put our feet up and relax between game drives. The lodge is simplistic with a large open plan dining area and an upstairs bar and deck with a magnificent view over the reserve. There is also a small swimming pool with comfy loungers which we enjoyed in the heat of the day.

The guest tents are all spread out along a pathway and each one has its own deck also looking over the reserve. Inside, the rooms are spacious with comfortable beds and an en-suite bathroom. The rooms are by no means fancy but they have everything you need for a comfortable safari. Personally I am a big fan of tented safari camps so love the look and feel of Mavela.

In the end we enjoyed three wonderful days with the team at Mavela. It offered everything we wanted for a short safari and we will definitely book it again when the family next visits from Australia.

Here is the comment my father-in-law posted on the Mavela Game Lodge Tripadvisor page: “Mavela was a delightful and elegant lodge serviced by pleasant and helpful staff . The game drives were breathtaking and the knowledge of the guide was exceptional . Catering was brilliant and varied .Overall a great experience and can recommend as a safari destination . Thanks Mavela



Dinner under the stars on the Mavela Game Lodge deck

Disclaimer: I do ongoing contract work with Mavela Game Lodge but this trip was a paid-for family vacation. All of the content and views expressed in this post are, of course my own.

Find more from Stuart Parker at Capturing Africa Journeys


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